SmartZavod is a German-Ukrainian high-tech startup bridging the 3D printing barriers for manufacturers. Their main goal is to create an affordable hybrid technology that will open new technological capabilities for businesses. 

The key innovation is a patented automatic tool change system and a parallel kinematic moving system that enable diverse technological capabilities, such as subtractive post-processing and the fusion of various material groups within a single setup, including composites, engineering polymers, silicones, and ceramics.

Currently, the team consists of 10 experts in Ukraine and Germany focused on bringing the world’s first hybrid, fully automated 3D printer to the market. The company already works with customers from the machinery and automation sector, providing hybrid production, consultancy, and training services in the additive technologies field, and has strategic and industrial partners to make the best innovative product.

SmartZavod also actively participates in various programs and industry events. In 2022, SmartZavod presented the first prototype of their printer at BayerInnovativ`s stand at the largest additive technologies exhibition Formnext 2022, and plans to introduce an industrial-grade version of the printer in November 2023. During 2022-2023, the team gained €250,000 in grant funds for hybrid product development and is expected to close a round of €1.5 million over the next six months.

Interview with Oleksii Solntsev, CEO at SmartZavod.

Easy Engineering: Which are the most futuristic products / solutions from your portfolio?

Oleksii Solntsev: I think that from a one-year perspective, our most futuristic solution is a successful combination of parallel kinematics moving system and a unique precise module replacement system. What opportunities do they offer? Imagine you need to make an accurate human skull and brain model from an MRI scan for presurgical planning. To do that you will have to use at least two types of expensive equipment and 3 different materials that imitate skin, skull bone, and brain structure. Each element will have to be made separately, and then manually processed and assembled, which will take hours of highly qualified work and personnel training.

Our printer solves most of these problems as it can complete all the processes with different materials in one technological operation without human intervention thanks to the automatic printing tool change for different materials and the flexible rigid movement system. 

E.E: Tell us about the company’s long-term goals / prospects?

Oleksii Solntsev: Our goal for the next 3-5 years is to increase the availability of hybrid equipment and provide businesses with access to it through service business models, as well as to take into account environmental challenges and support sustainable development. The most futuristic idea is the establishment of Industry 5.0 factories across Europe and around the world.

Our printer is fully autonomous. All of the time-consuming auxiliary operations people do manually today, such as changing materials and tools, detaching the part from the printing surface, evaluating quality, post-processing, etc., are automated in our hybrid equipment. That is why it can be installed in innovation hubs and universities, where SMEs and start-ups will be able to access it through a web platform, book print slots, monitor the printing process remotely and receive prototypes after it is complete. This way, businesses can get access to advanced technology without the need to invest in equipment. Automation also makes it possible to track printing defects and correct them on-site in the future. Look at our vision:

E.E: Tell us about product innovation and how does it impact the future?

Oleksii Solntsev: We know from gene engineering that crossbreeding can result in entirely new organisms. Technologies work the same way because their smart combination can lead to a completely new technical solution that will change the future. That is exactly what SmartZavod is.

We want to step aside from manually scraping details to give them the correct surface after printing or having tonnes of various metal-consuming and energy-inefficient equipment that is now used simply out of inertia. It is basically like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. We believe that the future belongs to flexible production systems like SmartZavod, which allow us to produce complex, customized products in an automatic production cycle without physical intervention. Our company stands for sustainable industry 5.0 trends, where humans work in harmony with intelligent robotic systems.

In addition to the automatic tool change system, we developed, produced, tested, and patented another innovative solution. It is a system that allows us to print details nonstop from a wide range of materials. Unlike others, it doesn`t need a human operator to detach a detail from the printer and clean the surface to start working on the next one since it uses a flexible carbon surface. It looks like it is not a big deal but it is the essential process that enables the introduction of both the Haas Visual Programming System and full remote access to the printer and the automatic remaking of defective samples rejected by AI.

E.E: What’s moving your company forward?

Oleksii Solntsev: We are inspired by a clear vision of the final result and the excitement of how our technology can change the outdated processes of many companies. It is also the support from our current customers that have agreed to be early adopters of our printer. For example, we recently had a great conversation with a company from Canada specializing in pumping systems. It was a true synergy.

E.E: How do employees shape your company’s future?

Oleksii Solntsev: Knowledge of employees is a crucial component of our company’s success. Each of us is an expert in our field who makes important contributions to the company`s growth. Additionally, we believe that the relations people build are no less important for the harmony and productivity inside the company. As I mentioned before, our team consists of 10 experts in Ukraine and Germany, and being in different countries and circumstances never hinders our productivity.

E.E: How does the digital transformation affect your products / business?

Oleksii Solntsev: Oh, it has definitely affected us. We actively use digital simulation methods. Also, recently, it was our first time participating in the innovative European grant project DIH World together with our Latvian partner Manuvalley. As part of this project, we have set up remote access, control, and monitoring of equipment and 3D printers in our laboratory. Now our team doesn’t have to manually track the printing process since the system’s built-in AI allows them to spot a printing failure and pause it while working from the home office. It saves us hours during the design and prototyping process. 

Also, digitalization reveals new ways to offer our services. It opens up a completely different business model for our technology – Hardware as a Service which is the remote rental of SmartZavod hybrid printers via a web platform.

E.E: Tell us about research and development in your company. 

Oleksii Solntsev: SmartZavod`s development has been largely fueled by our steadfast dedication to innovations and Industry 5.0 values.  We closely monitor the developments and research in our industry to anticipate market demands and provide exceptional solutions. 

The team`s strong academical background helps with it a lot. The company`s founders Oleksii and Anton got a polytechnic Master’s degree in Ukraine and an applied sciences degree in the machine engineering sphere with a specialization in simulation technics in Germany. That`s why we always subject our business and technical hypotheses to experiments and strict validation.  

Our company also actively cooperates with European and Ukrainian universities and laboratories. For example, we have recently discovered through a review of existing solutions and the Scopus database that the polymer details post-processing by cutting is poorly studied, and the situation is even worse with post-processing with additive extrusion methods. We instantly started a series of experiments and research to find the best instrument, cutting regimes, and printing parameters to provide customers with the quality they need.

E.E: Tell us about the company’s future strategies and how will you adapt to the future.

Oleksii Solntsev: We have a clear vision for future market trends. One of them is typical for Industry 4.0 mass customization. We want to fully integrate it into our company in the next 1,5 years. At least we plan to provide big clients with an option to customize our equipment according to their needs, such as printing volume or working axis.

The customization is possible due to the module nature of the basic version of our printer. As a result, the client receives a set of features, tools, and materials they need without paying for unnecessary functions and causing equipment downtime.

Nowadays, the problem of the hybrid polymer-based equipment market is that its main players are metal-cutting machine tool manufacturers that have integrated 3D printing modules. Since such equipment was designed for rough metal processing, it has high safety limits due to the strong cutting forces, which explains the huge price of such hybrid machines. These characteristics are necessary for metalwork, but not for fast printing and final processing of polymers. SmartZavod takes this into account and offers its clients the functionality they need for a reasonable price.

E.E: How do you think the future will look like in your field of activity?

Oleksii Solntsev: I believe that complex and powerful additive and hybrid manufacturing technologies can become more affordable due to flexibility and not lower quality. I mean the opportunity to give clients what they need instead of offering them what the company wants to sell. Also, digital transformation is very important too as it opens up new business models that don`t require big investments from clients in the initial stages.

That is why SmartZavod‘s mission is to make unique technologies more affordable through innovative solutions and maintain the quality of final products.